As a student without a car I walk a lot, regularly making the trip down George St. from College Avenue to Cook/Douglass campus when I don’t feel like waiting for the bus. Even still, I have barely ventured off of that narrow path, and so this morning I was excited to take an hour and a half out of my day to wander off of my normal route and see a little more of this largely unfamiliar city that I call home.
The overwhelming sense that I got of the city on the walk was one of contrast. The built environment of New Brunswick was capable of impressing upon me feelings of interest, boredom, discomfort, and beauty in the space of a block. The very nature of the city, with it’s moderately dense, often struggling residential neighborhoods and it’s small, low rent mixed-use commercial centers stacked against the impervious feeling center-city buildings is one of intense contradiction, and so it was easy to find spaces that I liked, spaces that I disliked, and a surprisingly large overlap between these two extremes.
A city of churches and parking garages
Too frequently in the city, I would find myself enjoying the street before me, only to turn a corner and find the entire block dominated by a hulking mass of concrete with a shadowy driveway and an otherwise largely blank (and boring) facade, such as the corner of Prospect Street and French Street shown in Fig. 1 below. This poor street is dominated by the parking garage attached to the Children’s hospital, which casts into shadow the quiet residential street that opposes it. Interestingly enough, there are a plethora of tree grates, a touch that I enjoyed on a street where few people are likely to spend enough time walking to enjoy them.
More pleasantly, I found myself wandering across a number of very pleasant buildings, especially a number of old and ornate buildings, and especially churches that are littered throughout the city. From the stately old buildings on Livingston Avenue to the odd church on a narrow residential street like High, these buildings lend life to the street and make it more interesting, especially to the pedestrian in passing. (see Figs. 2 and 3 below)
Another issue that I encountered throughout New Brunswick was the presence of missing teeth. I would be walking down what was actually a fairly pleasant street, with on street parking and trees, only to be confronted with an empty lot or a sea of asphalt to my side. One notorious example of that is the George St. Co-op off of Livingston and Morris where I sometimes volunteer. The frankly plain building is overwhelmed by the parking lot that almost comically isolates it from the buildings on its sides (Fig. 4).
Trees and the pleasant pedestrian experience
Much to my pleasure, the City of New Brunswick is full of trees. From countless tree grates around various institutional buildings to the rows of trees on quiet residential streets, there is often a very pleasant isolation from vehicular traffic.
When this is coupled with an interesting, mixed use streetscape, like the left side of Somerset Street coming up to Easton Avenue, one can often have a very pleasant pedestrian experience, as can be seen in Fig. 5.